Rebels’ plenum in Surigao called off as soldiers swarm venue

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews / 29 December) – Communist rebels called off Sunday a plenum and mass wedding of their supporters in Bacuag, Surigao del Norte on Monday, December 30, as soldiers swarmed the venue.

The arrest of two rebels and two other supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) led the Army to suspect that something big was going to happen in Bacuag.

Police arrested two motorcycle drivers carrying 18 packs of black fatigue pants;  37 packs of poncho tents; and 1,000 bottles of softdrinks last Saturday.

Members of the New People’s Army of Northern Mindanao Guerilla Front 68 in formation during a ceremony in Barangay Tikalaan, Talakag town in Bukidnon in this file photo taken last April 17, 2017 when the NPA released a police officer it earlier held captive. MIndaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Col. Maurito Licudine, commander of the Army 401stInfantry Brigade, said they also arrested two communist rebels with warrants of arrests near Bacuag town on Sunday.

“This led us to suspect the rebels are planning something big near Bacuag town,” Licudine said.

President Rodrigo Duterte and the CPP’s Central Committee on December 22 each declared a unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire from December 23, 2019 to 11:59 p.m. on January 7, 2020.

Surigao has been the usual venue for the December 26 anniversary celebrations of the CPP.

Police Regional 13 Director Gen. Joselito Esquivel Jr., said the drivers, under intense questioning by the police, told investigators they were instructed to deliver the supplies to the communist rebels waiting in Sitio Bay-ang, Barangay Lahi, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte

“We also monitored the coming and going of known rebels in Barangay Lahi,” Licudine said, adding he immediately dispatched soldiers to take up positions in Barangay Lahi.

He also deployed four 105mm howitzers ready to assault rebel positions but Licudine said “what held us was our concern that the communist rebels will withdraw from the negotiating table.”

The rebels monitored the build-up of soldiers in Gigaguit town.

At about 7 p.m. on Sunday, Ka Oto, spokesperson of the New People’s Army (NPA) Front 16, informed reporters invited to cover the plenum not to proceed anymore.

The reporters were staying in a hotel in Butuan City and would have travelled to nearby Bacuag town, venue of the plenum and mass wedding.

Ka Oto advised reporters who were about to cover the event not to proceed anymore or turn back

“It’s no longer safe for you to come here,” Ka Oto said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)